Sterling gets its exciting back
“ … put together a prefabricated home marketed by U.S. Steel and sell it for about $17,000 – $3,000 less than a comparable Fairfax County home,” the developer wrote in his marketing plan. “All homes to have air-conditioning. Homeowners to have access without membership fees to golf and tennis courts and pools."
Price, air-conditioning and no-cost recreation passed for “excitement” in 1961. Sterling Park emerged as the seminal community for growth in Loudoun County, changing the landscape from large farms to an affordable, residential hub intended for the families of federal workers.
Significant? Undoubtedly. Exciting? Not until now.
Movoto, a popular culture and real-estate blog based in San Francisco has released ratings naming Sterling as the fourth “most exciting place” in Virginia after Charlottesville, Alexandria and Arlington.
“Surprised?” the Movoto blog asked. “We sure were.”
So were the Sterling residents we asked. “Sterling exciting?” Rick Wasser, a 25-year resident asked incredulously.
Evidently Movoto saw something about Sterling that was lost on residents. The blog crunched 2010 census data and local business listings to establish criteria that ranked 46 Virginia places for nightlife, music venues, recreational facilities, arts and entertainment, restaurants and young residents.
“This place may feel like a bit of an anomaly on our list, but let us assure you, there is excitement to be found here,” Laura Allen, the Movoto blogger who lives in Lynchburg, wrote. Sterling ranked second in music venues per capita, third in best nightlife and third in “active life” or recreation.
We thought we’d vet the rankings for evidence that Sterling has become exciting enough for the times.
Nightlife: Not generally known for its night spots or clubs, the local bar crowd likes its music with food at Bungalow Lakehouse in Lake Center Plaza, O’Faolain's on Davenport Road, Velocity Five in Great Falls Plaza and Mighty Mike’s on Sterling Boulevard. For pub crawlers, there’s a variety of nearby choices where Sterling morphs into Ashburn.
Music venues: No major venues like Leesburg’s Tally Ho, the Birchmere in Alexandria, the State Theater in Falls Church or Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, but there is the cozy Mahalo Cove in Cascades Marketplace and Rio Cantina in Towncenter Plaza.
Arts and Entertainment (movie theaters, festivals, galleries): Sterling would like to claim the Smithsonian’s incomparable Air and Space Museum and its out-of-worldly IMAX theaters, but they’re across the county line in Chantilly. Regal’s 20-screen theaters in CountrySide are state-of-the-art, but so is the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in neighboring Ashburn and Cobb 12 just beyond in Leesburg. But festivals? Sterling’s got a great one. About 7,000 people annually attend SterlingFest in Sterling Park in October.
Recreation: It doesn’t get much better than Algonkian Park along the Potomac with its water park, golf course, hiking trail, boat launch and cabins. There’s the adjacent Potomack Lakes Sportsplex, a 47-acre athletic complex with lighted softball fields and six soccer fields. There’s also Claude Moore Park on Old Vestal’s Gap Road with 11 miles of hiking trails, two fishing ponds, woodlands, meadows and a Sportsplex. Gwen Thompson Briar Patch Park on Sterling Boulevard is a five-acre park with playgrounds, picnic tables and sports courts.
Food: Rankings that weigh chef-inspired or locally owned restaurants over franchises and fast food are just our taste. It’s here that Sterling fares well. Movoto singles out Mokomandy, the sublime Cajun-Korean bistro in Great Falls Plaza that has everyone talking. Growing diversity, much of it from Asia and Southeast Asia, is inspiring authentic cuisine throughout Sterling with a Taste of Burma, Cafe´ Rice and Kabob (Afghan), Taste of Vietnam, Saigon Cafe´ and Cheng’s
“Young” is also part of Movoto’s code for “exciting.” The blog’s “excitement-measuring” criteria is partly based on the number of young residents between the ages of 18 and 34. Known for family living, Sterling is on the upward slope of “young” with about 30 percent of residents in the range.
The bigger questions for thrill-seekers looking for exciting spots in Sterling: Where and what is it? Ask Sterling residents where they live and you’ll discover an identity crisis.
Sterling wasn’t cool enough for the techies who flocked to the AOL, MCI (now Verizon) and Orbital Sciences campuses along the Route 28 corridor north of the airport. The usage of Dulles as a community name began in the mid-1980s when then Loudoun County economic development officer Pam Treadwell successfully lobbied the U.S. Postal Service to allow Sterling businesses and residents to use Dulles as an alternate address.
Nor was Sterling good enough for the planned communities along the Potomac River in the northernmost portion of Sterling. Seeking a more refined name, Potomac Falls was adopted in a competition to name a second post office in Sterling.
Residents aren’t enamored with that name either, perhaps because the falls of the Potomac are actually a few miles downriver in Fairfax County on the Virginia side. Residents tend to default to park-life names invented by developers: Glen Heather, Calvert's Glen, Cascades, CountrySide, Lowes Island, Rivercrest, Potomac Hunt, Great Falls Forest and Great Falls Chase. It gets really confusing in Lowes Island, a subdivision of Cascades where either the Sterling or Potomac Falls mailing address works.
Want another address on Lowes Island then ask Donald Trump. The Donald owns three golf courses, a clubhouse and grounds – about half of the geography. Trump, Va., can’t be far behind.
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